happiness - a journey not a destination

happiness – a journey not a destination

September 2, 2010  |  knowledge, life, main blog, motivation, philosophy

I’ve been in two minds about writing a blog on the complex subject of happiness – and couldn’t contain myself any longer. Happiness has become such an industry – over 300 million Google references, c0mplete sections in bookstores and a happiness or well-being conference accessible every couple of months. However, in the relentless pursuit of happiness, many people are making the mistake of treating it as a destination rather than a journey.

In this world of instant gratification, people want to find the answers. A bit like one of our children at high school…”Dad, I don’t want to know how to do the maths, I just want the answer”. The happiness answers can be complex and elusive. People suggest that the best starting point is picking the right parents. Possibly true – but unable to be altered.  It’s a state of mind, say some. Don’t worry – be happy! Some quotes on happiness that resonate with me include:

  • “A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships.” — Helen Keller
  • “Being happy doesn’t mean everything is perfect. It means you have decided to look beyond the imperfections.” –Unknown
  • “We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.”– Frederick Keonig

The last quote causes me to reflect on a trend I see around me. My generalization is that beyond a threshold level of income to meet living requirements, there is an inverse correlation between happiness and further wealth accumulation. Why? I guess because people run out of things to have, buy, use and as their lives have been focused on doing just that, become lost and unfulfilled.

From all I have read, there seem to be two things that seem to appear on every list as precursors for happiness. They are connectedness and generosity. Connectedness – played out through family, friends, organisations, netball teams, men’s sheds and so on, that engenders a sense of belonging. Generosity – that taps into that basic human need to give and care for others. Of course love embraces both connectedness and generosity.

On the next rung of common happiness precursors we find – being active (walking, running, dancing and being vital); taking notice (being aware of the beautiful, curious and unusual and relishing every moment); learning (challenging yourself to gain knowledge and mentally stretch); and gratitude. Joseph Krutch said, with perspicacity, “Happiness is itself a kind of gratitude”.

The Positive Psychology movement, pioneered by the eminent Martin Seligman, has much to offer around happiness. The movement is changing the emphasis of the profession from pathology and mental illness to positive emotion, virtue and strength. If you haven’t already done so, pick up a copy of Seligman’s best seller “Authentic Happiness” Random House 2002. He argues that positive emotions generate strengths and that authentic happiness comes from identifying and cultivating your most fundamental strengths. It’s a powerful, potentially life changing book, one that has caused many to take the next step and enroll in Seligman’s  Master of Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

An alternative, useful for amateurs like me, is to ponder the messages in Positive Psychology Daily News – a free on-line service full of applications for daily life. On the subject of applications, from a sea of happiness apps for i phone, there are two that stand above the pack. One is Live Happy ($1.19) and the other a free app called Gratitude Journal. Both worth down loading from i tunes.

Anyway, the subject is interesting and exploring it makes me happy!

 Finally, a marvellous quote from Nataniel Hawthorne, ““Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you”.


  1. Great post KB. I can’t believe there’s happy apps!

    This musing on happiness tickles my fancy “Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you” Nathaniel Hawthorne

    I reckon most people are living their lives in reverse – they try to have more money and more gadgets, in order to do more of what they want, so they will be happier. But its actually all back to front – you’ve gotta figure out who you really are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want.

    I try to do this little exercise in bed each night: think of 5 things I’m grateful for, either during that day or in general. I always drift off to sleep with a smile on my dial. Unless the borg is snoring.

    Ps – I know how you can obtain happiness. Fund your daughters Masters of Positive Psych at UPenn – and she’ll fill you in on all the secrets.

  2. Good thing I picked the right parents and you taught me that life is about the journey.

    Let me know if you find the maths answers though.

  3. Imagine what a happy man I am to have posts like these from my daughters.

  4. Happiness can be directly linked to the level of expectation a person has for what is ‘required’ for their happiness. I saw a sign board outside our local pub which said ‘every day above ground is a good day’. Now there’s a high chance the person who believes this will be happy on a lot more days than the one who thinks they need to have x, y and z and an extra 20% income before they can be happy.

    Another thought – happiness is also connected to whether you choose to judge things (including feelings) as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, once those labels are dropped, happiness can be found in the beauty of sorrow, the release of anger and even in the exhilaration of fear.

    One thing is for sure, happiness can only be felt from the inside, therefore noone can ‘make’ another person happy. These are my Sunday morning musings on the matter…

  5. Love the butterfly quote Ken – this blog is so true – I was reminded of this in India earlier in the year – there was a sense of contentment I don’t always see in Australia, yet they had very little in a material sense.
    The aspiration to acquire, when we could just be “beings” is very pervasive in our society
    Keep blogging!

  6. Ken, I am sorry I missed this at the time, on the other hand I would not have got the wonderful comments if I had.

    One thing though: I started life pretty poor, and in my twenties I reckoned that money isn’t everything but I have been poor and sick (truly and VERY) and miserable, and rich and well, and I know which I would rather be.

    I think Seligman is brilliant (and I have the “big book” on characteristics etc as well as the small). But in the end I think it comes down to doing things you love, or doing things for people you love. As long as your able to do either, or even better both, you will be happy.

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